Replica guns. (Photo: Delta Police).

Fake guns, real danger

‘It is human nature for people to react as if it was a real weapon’

Replica guns and BB guns can land you in a world of trouble – or worse – if you unwisely take them out into public places, as recent events have shown.

A Sands Secondary school student with an airsoft pistol, which shoots plastic pellets, found that out the hard way on Feb. 15, one day after the school massacre in Florida where a gunman killed 17 people.

The Sands student’s poor decision resulted in a Code Yellow lockout between 9:30 and 10:50 a.m. that morning, after the school received a report that a student allegedly had a handgun in his possession.

“The situation involved a dispute between students,” said Cris Leykauf, public affairs co-ordinator for the Delta Police. “The student in question apparently felt threatened and decided to carry the air soft pistol as a deterrent.”

Leykauf said police arrived at Sands within a minute of a Delta Police school liaison officer being contacted by school staff.

Cris Leykauf, spokeswoman for Delta Police. (Photo: Delta Police).

“Officers quickly located the student, who was taken into police custody,” she said.

Aaron Akune, principal of the North Delta school, issued a letter to parents that same day.

“In consideration of events that happened in Florida yesterday, we cannot overstate the seriousness of incidents of this nature and how it impacts the climate, culture and safety of students and staff at school,” he wrote.

“We need all parents to recognize that weapons of any type, real or imitation, are strictly prohibited on or near school property.”

People doubting the gravity of this replica gun situation need only consider related headlines, mostly out of the United States. The Washington Post, for example, ran stories in December 2016 under these headlines: “In two years, police killed 86 people brandishing guns that look real — but aren’t” and, “Fake guns are getting people killed.”

Meantime, Transit Police here in Metro Vancouver were recently busy with two firearms calls in two days on SkyTrain that turned out to be BB guns that look like the real deal.

“Replica firearms should not be carried on the transit system,” Transit Police spokeswoman Anne Drennan said. “All reports involving a firearm require a police response that can put the public, the police and the suspect in danger and create fear and panic in public places. Unnecessary tragedies can occur all too easily.

Anne Drennan, spokeswoman for Transit Police. (Photo: Submitted).

“Replica firearms are often incredibly realistic in appearance and, when displayed or possessed on the transit system, it is human nature for people to react as if it was a real weapon,” Drennan said.

Police responded to a complaint about a rider cleaning a gun on SkyTrain and stopped an 18-year-old man at Scott Road Station with a black .177-calibre BB C02 pistol than could have easily been mistaken for the real thing.

The previous day, a 41-year-old man was taken into custody at Moody Centre Station after Metro Vancouver Transit Police got a text message from a passenger saying a man dropped a gun on the floor of a train on the Evergreen extension. It turned out to be a black Crossman C11 BB gun.

Neither were charged with a crime.

“We see this I wouldn’t say frequently, but infrequently – often enough that it is a concern to us. Every year there are several incidents,” Drennan told the Now-Leader.

“Every single time it’s a situation where there are a lot of people around and that always increases the potential for danger, tragedy, that kind of thing, because of the kind of response that’s required. When you have what’s typically called a ‘man with a gun’ call, you have to respond in a certain way and until you know that this is a replica, very often you don’t know that until the person is in custody and the gun has been seized and examined.

“You respond as though it is a real firearm, and you know, anything can happen when you’re involved in that kind of response. We always find it very concerning.”

Surrey RCMP Corporal Scotty Schumann noted people are “definitely more sensitive” regarding firearms. especially with the number of shots fired incidents across the Lower Mainland.

“Even to someone like a police officer who is experienced around firearms, it’s impossible to tell the difference between some of the replica firearms and the real thing,” he told the Now-Leader.

Surrey RCMP Corporal Scotty Schumann. (Photo: Now-Leader).

“We do more often see criminals using replica firearms during the commission of an offence. Replica firearms are definitely more accessible because they can be legally purchased without any licence required. They look so realistic that certainly it would fool most people, police included, in regards to the authenticity of the weapon.”

Some cases make local headlines.

In 2010 five Surrey residents were arrested after a driver’s window was shot out in a hail of pellets fired from a high-velocity replica 9mm handgun-air pistol on Highway 1. Twelve shots were fired.

“Other than sheer stupidity, there doesn’t appear to be a motive,” Sergeant Peter Thiessen, since retired, said at the time.

Five years earlier, a replica gun was pointed at a group of teens at the Strawberry Hill theatre parking lot, resulting in a brief police chase and a Camaro being driven onto a sidewalk before it crashed into a small tree.

Doug Strachan, spokesman for the Surrey School District, said he’s seen maybe half a dozen incidents involving replica guns being brought to schools in the 14 years he’s been with the district.

“It’s rare,” he said.

Surrey School District spokesman Doug Strachan. (Photo: Now-Leader).

In October 2012, Earl Marriott Secondary school in South Surrey was locked down while police investigated a report that a boy had pointed an airsoft gun at students in the area.

Police took two 15-year-old boys into custody.

“We have policies and regulations that are very clear that anything, that any weapon or simulated weapon including toys, that can’t be in our schools,” Strachan said, adding the district responds to incidents in a “decisive and serious manner because the safety of our students and staff is paramount.

“As far as the penalties, every case is decided on what the circumstances are. I can’t say that it’s an expulsion, just off the top, because everything’s taken into account. Sometimes it’s just a simple misunderstanding, but it’s certainly something we deal with seriously when it comes to dealing with a report.”

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